I have been in the middle of a series of arguments for building the Adirondack economy by promoting the region as a premier wilderness destination, something it is not widely known as now. A wild Adirondack Image will resonate in a much different way than current conceptions of the region bring to mind. It will become more unique, more valuable and more appropriate for answering the large and growing national demand for wild places.
The first two strategies of my five point economic proposal argued that a wild Adirondack Image can be a powerful tool in promoting wilderness tourism and recreation. Now I will move onto three additional strategies for leveraging a wild Adirondacks
The first is to move the Adirondack Park to the forefront of the burgeoning outdoor education industry. There is an almost dizzying array of programs and initiatives to use wilderness and outdoor experiences to assist troubled youth, develop leadership, provide exposure of the natural world to people in urban communities, to provide beneficial programs to the poor and disadvantaged who would otherwise never experience wilderness. This is a potentially explosive area of growth in wilderness use.
Outdoor education is nothing new in the Adirondacks: from SUNY Cortland’s Huntington Memorial Camp to ATIS’s High Peaks Camp to Paul Smiths, numerous organizations and programs in the Adirondacks cater to a variety of potential students. But I know of no park-wide strategy to promote outdoor educational as part of the Adirondack Image. The very fact of the public-private mix here, the existing infrastructure of towns and roads winding through so much forest preserve, the climbable nature of the mountains and the navigable water all contribute to making the Adirondacks a second-to-none locale for wilderness education. Not only that but we have a rich tradition of guiding upon which to draw, along with top-shelf educational institutions integrated into the life of the park.
The mind boggles at the number of people who could be drawn here, first to take part in a wilderness education program for themselves or their children, then as returning visitors because they have fallen in love with the place. Imagine a coordinated outreach program, complete with first-class promotional materials, that was distributed electronically to every school – public and private, primary, secondary and college – in the United States. We have the perfect place for wilderness education. Let’s market it with a park-wide strategy and focus.
Second, it seems to me that we can do a better job of marketing our magnificent history, again with a park-wide strategy instead of piecemeal promotion of specific attraction. The Adirondack Image has a powerful history story that is deeper and greater than any other wilderness area in America, yet no one except local history buffs really knows it. We have a great exemplar of the powerful draw of the region’s history in the world-class Adirondack Museum. But there is so much more to leverage, most of it inextricably wound with the idea of the wilderness that we have preserved here.
A strategy to meld interest in history with an Adirondack Image would seem to naturally split into two areas: the Lake Champlain corridor and everything else. This The Lake Champlain corridor is its own draw which from out here in the heartland is somewhat understood, though not as anything Adirondack. There is a heck of an argument to make that the cradle of liberty is here just as much as Philadelphia, given that the fate of the continent was settled in the Champlain valley not one but at least three times.
Recently I was perusing the web site for the Lake Champlain Region tourism organization. Their history narrative is right on the money and their integrated regional approach and branding is an example of the kind of thing I’m thinking about. They even call themselves “The Adirondack Coast,” sort of a special case of an Adirondack Image
But the rest of the park has much to offer as well and no cohesive image to promote it. I’m thinking in particular of the romantic appeal of failed attempts to settle in, survive and make good in the wilderness: pioneer homesteads and ruins and ghost towns and abandoned enterprises. There is a uniquely American passion for that kind of past, of unknown men and women laboring on the frontier, the remnants of their efforts still visible even as their names and lives and histories have been lost in the mists of time.
This kind of history not only plays off of wilderness but even enhances the allure of wilderness. Thus it would be an integral part of a wild Adirondack image. “Wow, this place is so wild, it couldn’t be settled.” Unfortunately when people think of frontiers, pioneers and ghost towns they think of Wyoming, not the Adirondacks.
I think there are numerous opportunities to leverage this kind of draw. Here are two. Nobody outside of the region knows that John Brown is moldering in an Adirondack grave except well-informed civil war buffs. But with an increasing interest in the history of the African American experience in this country why not tie John Brown’s farm to a larger canvas, the mystery of Timbuctoo. Here is a poignant and ghostly Adirondack echo. Or what of Tahawus and Adirondac? So far as I’ve heard (which is little, lately) the development of historic district is on hold. But here we have a ghost town nonpareil, what with the remoteness, the dense, surrounding forest and massive mining machinery and works still imposing themselves on the surrounding wilderness. Just the journey back to Adirondac itself, along a dead-end road, with a palpable fell of immersion into the wild, makes it an otherworldly experience. Now the possibility of train service is on the horizon. I think the story and allure of Adirondac is marketable as part of a broad Adirondack strategy to promote pioneer history. Imagine the shot in the arm to Newcomb. Tahawus is a perfect example of the melding of romantic history to wilderness.
The third economic strategy is to use our wild Adirondack Image to promote telecommuting: relocating to the Adirondacks and living in paradise while working elsewhere. This is the most compelling way to create an infusion of new residents with money and means. It becomes more and more obvious to me that this one is the game-changer, the strategy with the most potential to reverse the declining fortunes of many Adirondack towns and bring the unique balance between an increasingly wild park and vibrant local communities to full fruition.
Unbeknownst to many Adirondackers, there is a talented, dedicated group of extremely capable people leading the way and laying the groundwork to make this economic strategy fly. I have been talking with them and will devote next week’s Dispatch to their story and the potential of telecommuting to change the fortunes of the park.
Photo: MacNaughton Cottage at Adirondac